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“The Violence of the White Audience” – Malaika wa Azania and TO Molefe Add to the White Literary System Debate

Memoirs of a Born FreeBlack Anger and White ObliviousnessQueer Africa

Authors and public intellectuals Malaika Mahlatsi, aka Malaika wa Azania, and TO Molefe have responded to the heated debate around the “white literary system” which was sparked by Thando Mgqolozana this past weekend at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

The author of Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation writes in an article for Times LIVE that the FLF has shown her for the first time in her 23 years what it means to “suffocate in a pool of white privilege”.

Azania reflects on her experience at literary festivals as a first-time writer and their elitist and exclusionary nature towards people who cannot afford to attend these spaces.

Read the article for the author’s view on the violence of the white audience in Franschhoek:

The violence that I was subjected to by the white audience in Franschhoek left me shaken, more so because in that space few are aware of their privilege.

In both sessions that I attended as a panellist, I endured disapproving stares and shaking heads every time I made mention of the legitimacy of black rage and how it is birthed by white privilege.

In that space, I came to understand that literary festivals exist to create a platform for white privilege to anthropologise black thought.

Molefe, the author of Black Anger and White Obliviousness and contributor to Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction, wrote a post on his blog, the repository, in which he shares the experience of declining the invitation to appear at the FLF.

The author writes that he said no to the FLF a few times but at the time he was too “threadbare and too afraid for a fight” to voice his reasons.

Read the article in which Molefe gives thanks to the people who started the debate:

I was cowardly. Unlike Siphiwo Mahala or Thando Mgqolozana, I said no quietly, and without much of a fuss, to participating in the Franschhoek Literary Festival when I was invited last year, in 2014. To be clear my reasons were exactly the same as theirs. Just like Thando, I’d felt like an anthropological exhibit the year before when I stood on stage in front of an old, white audience and retold the story of how I was affected by witnessing my dad being humiliated in the late 1980s by an Afrikaans-speaking policeman.

Today Siya Skota shared a link on his Facebook page to a story by Karin Schimke in which she shares her her take on the sessions where Mgqolozana raised the issue of the lack of transformation in SA’s literary circles.

Mgqolozana responded to Skota and shared his harrowing experience of being shouted at during a panel discussion:

Read the Facebook post:

On Saturday, at the session chaired by Victor Dlamini, Andrea Nattrass of Pan McMillan shouted rudely while I was speaking. Nobody reacted. People simply looked at her and then quickly back at me. I paused. Not even the chair protected me while being abused by Andrea. So I spoke and told her to shut up when I’m talking, which, ironically, shocked every single person in the room—perhaps because a black man cannot tell a rude white woman off, but a white woman can do the reverse on a black man who is simply articulating his views.

I was told that Andrea was crying outside afterwards. She came back to me while I was still chatting to members of the audience and, still visibly furious, apologised for the rudeness, and then went on to say something I didn’t quite hear. I think she was saying as (white) publishers in SA they DO look for talent, which is supposed to be a rebuttal to my “anthropological subject” argument. Then she walked off.


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Related links:


Book Details

  • Black Anger and White Obliviousness by TO Molefe
    EAN: 9780992190231

Images courtesy of Zazi and Afronline


Recent comments:

  • MsLee
    May 30th, 2015 @14:13 #

    I read articles like this with great sadness because, as much as they show up unresolved issues in South African public life, they paint a picture of individuals struggling to understand one another at a very fraught time in our history.

    As a white person who grew up in apartheid South Africa, I have my own unresolved anger towards the apartheid government, and can only imagine how young black people growing up in its wake must feel. We need to humbly acknowledge their anger and sadness, and listen to what they have to say. It's not just politeness; it's a moral obligation.

    On the other hand, I'd like to appeal to my black compatriots to try and understand what it feels like to be white in South Africa today and to be constantly lashed for being so. This is surely something you are able to empathize with.

    Imagine being a white reader who's genuinely interested in learning more about what black people in this country have experienced and are experiencing; attending a literary festival with this hope in mind; and being accused of such things as 'anthropomorphizing' black writers and participating in a festival that needs to be 'decolonized'. Imagine being demonized simply for being a member of an older, predominantly white audience which, as much as any other audience, has a right to be here.

    As both black and white people trying to heal the wounds of the past and address the inequalities and injustices of the present, we need to be sensitive to the fact that anger arises, as much as anything else, out of vulnerability. If we can try to communicate our experiences, feelings and points of view as openly and kindly as possible, and if we can really listen to one another, perhaps we can gain a greater understanding of what it means to achieve unity in diversity.


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